Son of the legendary Gary Payton, Gary Payton II emerged on the scene at Oregon State the past two year’s to become a potential first-round prospect. DraftExpress lists him at 44th in their most recent mock, but with the fluidity of the late first round in this year’s draft, he’s got a real shot at hearing his name called in the top-30.
It is important to remember that though Payton only played two years of division-I college basketball he’s already 23 years old. I, and many others, consider Payton a relatively “high-upside” prospect due to his athleticism, but at his age it is fair to wonder how much room for improvement he has left.
Outside of his age, the primary red flag in Payton’s prospect profile is certainly his shooting ability. In his two years of college basketball he shot 30.2% from three across 162 attempts, and 65.2% at the charity stripe. In today’s day and age, any perimeter player that can’t at least force defenses to respect them from the perimeter can kill a team’s spacing – as we’re seeing with Andre Roberson in this year’s playoffs.
The good news for Payton is that there is some hope for his shot. His release point is a little low and not ideally quick, but his form isn’t horribly broken and he has a fairly consistent and smooth release. Despite his low percentages, Payton was fairly ambitious taking both pull-up J’s in the mid-range and fairly contested shots from deep. He’s still an unlikely bet to ever cross the 33% threshold from three, but I would give him better odds than your average non-shooter.
The more important argument in Payton’s favor may be that as a point guard he will spend significantly less time off the ball than other perimeter players. He’s not a good enough creator to spend a lot of time with the ball in his hands as a starter, but in a backup role, he could minimize the negative effect of his shooting by working as the team’s primary initiator. Arguably, Payton has more upside than your average 23 year old specifically because shooting is a more improveable skill than many others.
Payton is a very complex creator to analyze, having distinct areas of weakness and strength that combine to create an interesting creator. The most alluring part of Payton’s game is his simply incredible athleticism. Even in traffic he is liable to rise up and throw down at any moment, and he also has the burst to use one simple move and just blow by guys. That being said, he’s primarily a two-foot jumper, and he doesn’t have the type of in-the-lane footwork or creativity to generate shots in the paint the way his leaping ability would suggest. Additionally, his lack of an outside shot allows opponents to play a step off him, minimizing the effects of his burst. He’s not quite Russell Westbrook or Dennis Schroeder level of fast where he just flies into the lane at will, but if he can get a defender leaning the wrong way he’s powerful and explosive from there.
As a ball handler, Payton is fairly limited for a point guard. He’s got a quick and effective crossover that he utilizes as his primary move, particularly to reject ball screens, but his handle is a little high and he rarely breaks out complex dribble moves. More worrisome is his feel for probing the defense with his dribble. It may have been encouraged by the Oregon State offense, but Payton generally either succeeded in getting somewhere with his first move or gave the ball up to someone else fairly quickly. As a point guard, you would like to see him develop a more advanced feel for manipulating the defense to create openings.
That inability to bend defenses in pick-and-roll or isolation situations hurts Payton’s output as a passer. Payton’s actual raw vision is pretty impressive, he is very capable of both finding the roll/pop man and flinging passes to weakside shooters, but if he probed defenses a little more he would have a lot more opportunity to showcase his raw vision.
One area of unique strength for a point guard is Payton’s cutting ability. He loses himself from his man on backdoors at an inordinately high rate, using his quicks and instincts in tandem to create looks for himself where you would least expect it. As someone who will hurt his team’s spacing when he doesn’t have the ball, the extra ability to cut successfully is a huge plus.
Payton’s combination of elite athleticism, decent handle, and good vision should allow him to create well even at the next level, but a lack of advanced footwork or feel for the position prevent him from fully utilizing his athletic gifts.
Following in “the Glove’s” footsteps is a tall task, but the type of defensive numbers Payton put up at the college level are pretty insane. Across his two seasons, he posted a 4.9% steal rate and a 3.2% block rate, two of the best numbers of any perimeter player in this class. Payton’s combination of solid size for the position, 6’2.5 with a strong frame and a 6’6.5 wingspan, and elite athleticism allow him to be a true playmaker on the defensive end.
Payton’s outlier level defensive numbers may oversell his impact a little bit. As an on the ball defender Payton has the quickness and strength to lock guys down at times, but often seemed unengaged or took poor angles when guarding the ball that allowed his opponent to get a step on him. His effort level fighting through screens also left a lot to be desired. In a smaller offensive role at the next level if Payton can fully commit to focusing on the defensive end he could be a lockdown one-on-one guy.
Off-the-ball is where Payton’s defense really shines. He uses his physical tools in conjunction with fantastic raw instincts to make plays in the passing lanes and at the rim. To be a great defender at the next level Payton needs to play with the same awareness and instincts on the ball as he does off it.
It is also worth mentioning Payton’s prolific rebounding skill for a guard. Oregon State played some funky zones which might’ve helped, but his 9.2 rebounds per 40 minutes this past season is really exceptional. He uses his leaping ability and instincts to pursue balls on both the offensive and defensive end, and is good enough on both ends to actually contribute to his team’s overall ability to corral the ball. There are very few guards in the NBA who impact the glass the way Payton should be able to.
Payton is far from a guarantee to be a great defender at the NBA level, but he seems likely to at least be solid, with a lot of hope for being a significant plus. Combine that with an offensive profile that could see him being useful in a backup role with some extra upside if he ever improves his shot and you’ve got the profile of someone I deem fairly likely to find a long-term role in the league. He’s got more avenues to success than most prospects; he could be a 3-and-D mostly off-ball guard if the shot improves or a ball-dominant backup who impacts the game on both ends.
Compared to some of the point guard prospects projected to go ahead of him, Demetrius Jackson, Tyler Ulis, and Melo Trimble specifically, I find his two-way brand of basketball much more enticing. I’ve preached this before in scouting reports and I’ll preach it again, but I consistently believe the value of defense is undersold up and down the entire NBA draft. I rate Demetrius Jackson as a better offensive prospect than Payton, but I don’t think his advantage in that respect nearly matches the deficit between them on the defensive end.
I’m a pretty big fan of Payton’s, and confidently have him as my 3rd point guard prospect in this draft and think he starts deserving consideration anywhere outside of the top-10. He seems like a good bet to find a role as a solid backup to me, and in this draft that means relevance as a potential late lottery pick.